The third book of Adam Bede is the shortest and is all about a birthday party. Arthur’s birthday is July 30 and this year (1799, in case you were wondering) he is coming of age.
While Hetty is getting ready to go to the party, she looks over her jewelry. She has some beautiful, valuable earrings, which she can’t wear because her aunt mustn’t know where she got them from. They were from Arthur, which shows that when he got back from his fishing trip in June, after failing to tell Mr. Irwine of his danger, he has not only continued, but multiplied his attentions to Hetty. There is a bit of foreshadowing for Hetty as she basks in her jewelry:
One cannot even find fault with the tiny round hole which they [the earrings] leave when they are taken out; perhaps water-nixies, and such lovely things without souls, have these little round holes in their ears by nature, ready to hang jewels in. And Hetty must be one of them: it is too painful to think that she is a woman, with a woman’s destiny before her — a woman spinning in young ignorance a light web of folly and vain hopes which may one day close round her and press upon her, a rancorous poisoned garment, changing all at once her fluttering, trivial butterfly sensations into a life of deep human anguish. (Ch. 22)
Though she can’t wear the earrings, she does wear another gift from Arthur, a locket which contains a bit of her hair with a bit of Arthur’s, though she doesn’t like it as much as the earrings and it must be hidden beneath her dress. “But Hetty had another passion, only a little less strong than her love of finery, and that other passion made her like to wear the locket even hidden in her bosom.” She still loves finery better than she does Arthur, of course, but thinks she will gain the first by means of the second.
The party progresses and, after dinner, speeches are made and healths are drunk. Arthur’s health is drunk first as it’s his birthday. Then he announces that his grandfather has been persuaded to make Adam keeper of the wood, a position which is a step up in the world for Adam. When it comes time for Adam to make a speech, he thanks everyone, of course, but then goes on about how he’s not going to say he doesn’t deserve the honour, as that would be poor thanks. He does his work well, whatever it is, and would be “ashamed to stand before you here if it wasna true” (ch. 24). Still, he isn’t conceited as it was only his duty, and he is grateful because, after all, Arthur didn’t owe him the job. He ends by praising Arthur for wanting to leave the world a better place and looking forward to working for him.
Adam’s speech struck me as forced. I think the author was trying to show Adam as above others by making him too truthful to say he didn’t deserve the responsibility. But, as no one expected Adam to get up and say he didn’t deserve the place, a simple thank you would have sufficed and been more tasteful on his part.
For the rest of the book, there were games and then dancing. Hetty wants Arthur to notice her, but is worried that others might notice her desire. Her conflicting emotions make her look pale when Arthur comes to dance with her (an arrangement made before her aunt a long time before and which therefore has to be honored). Arthur takes her looks more seriously:
“That pale look came upon Arthur like the beginning of a dull pain, which clung to him, though he must dance and smile and joke all the same. Hetty would look so, when he told her what he had to tell her; and he should never be able to bear it—he should be a fool and give way again. … That look of Hetty’s oppressed Arthur with a dread which yet had something of a terrible unconfessed delight in it, that she loved him too well. There was a hard task before him, for at that moment he felt he would have given up three years of his youth for the happiness of abandoning himself without remorse to his passion for Hetty.” (Ch. 26)
Illustration by Percy Tarrant: “Feyther Taft going to the birthday feast”.